As I enjoy a four euro (that’s about six dollars at today’s exchange rate) mineral water from the minibar (thank the Maker for a generous expense account), I reflect on the weak dollar. Last time I was here I left a 50-Euro note in my luggage. It was worth about $50 then, it’s worth about $75 now. Got out and about – Mainz and Wiesbaden – with my colleagues. On the drive out I noticed that gas prices hadn’t changed appreciably here since last june. But their currency hasn’t tanked, either. But, I nod to Mr. Guthrie again, that’s not what I came to talk about either.
I came to talk about the flight over. Booked on Deutsche Lufthansa, an otherwise stellar performing company mostly due to their non-airline activites, there were two possibilities for an aircraft, a B-747 or an A-340. And we got the dreaded Airbus option. The A-340 has toilets downstairs. I’m surprised there aren’t seats there. That was literally the smallest seat I’ve ever been crammed into for nine and a half hours. Managed to sleep part of the way – my goal was to know as little about the famous Lufthansa service when I got here as when I left. I wasn’t quite successful. So, stiff and feeling shortened by about two inches, I arrived.
If you’ve ever passed through U. S. Customs and Immigration, you’d think you were entering Saudi Arabia. In fact, I’ve entered Saudi Arabia and, except for the men with uzis and the sign that said “Death to Drug Dealers,” you’d think you were entering Saudi Arabia when you enter the United States. There are all the forms you fill out on the plane: Under penalty of law…. One forgotten sandwich in your carry-on can be punishable by death and God forbid you have any liquids or gells – that Duschgel may be explosive, you know! Even getting on, you go through local country security then a special gate set up because as every American knows, they’re all out to get us, you get exactly the same check a second time. Who knows, you may have smuggled a butter knife from the café. Finally, you get to face the gauntlet of officials: “Why were you overseas? What was your business? What does the business do? What’s your mother’s maiden name?” My real name is relatively common so I fear that somewhere, sometime someone with a similar moniker has googled “dirty bomb making” and now I’m on the watch list because it uses similar logic to the Florida search for felons used in the 2004 elections. But apparently I’m not or the Germans don’t check it because here I am.
Entering Germany, by contrast, is easy. You walk up to the counter, greet the Beamter and hand him your passport. No stupid questions, no lookup, he scans the passport, stamps it and gives it back. No signs telling you using your Blackberry or cell phone in the Customs area is punishable by death, impalement or $25,000 fine, either. You grab your bags. Last time I was here, Customs wasn’t even manned! The guy traveling with me at one point asked, have we cleared customs? You’re free and clear in Germany, I told him. It was so easy Carl didn’t even know he’d cleared.
Germany has battled terrorism. The Red Army Brigade performed far more acts of terrorism than have been perpetrated in the U. S. and the German terrorists were home-grown. The two countries reacted differently. The Germans fought back – the Polizei now carry 9mms as opposed to their old .38’s due to the battles – but they fought with law enforcement and intelligence. The U. S. reacted with panic, with knee-jerk reactions, with stupidity, resulting in a threat not in the least diminished (although Bush would have you believe it has gone down) and an enemy still ready to strike. While there may still be a few RAF members around, they’re probably getting a bit long in the tooth to plan an attack – you do it right and the recruiting stops.
So, all in all, I’m glad to be back in a sane country. I haven’t given up on my own just yet, America has gone insane before and come back from it. We may be experiencing the turning point.
I certainly hope so.
I leave you with a bit of German music:
Auf Wiedersehn für Heute,
TAGS: Germany, Homeland Security, Lufthansa, Dollar